Israel's ties with the Sub-Saharan African countries date from the mid-1950s; first contacts with some of them had taken place even before they achieved independence. In 1956, diplomatic relations were established with Ghana, followed by most countries south of the Sahara; by the early 1970s, Israel maintained full diplomatic relations with 33 countries there. These ties were an expression of African affinity with Israel, itself a young state that had achieved independence in 1948 and was eager to share its experience and expertise with the newly independent African states. Mutually beneficial economic ties were also developed, including many joint ventures.

In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, followed by the global oil crisis, most of the Sub-Saharan countries severed diplomatic ties with Israel, due to two prime factors: promises of cheap oil and financial aid from the Arab states, and compliance with the OAU (Organization of African Unity) resolution, sponsored by Egypt, calling for the severing of relations with Israel. Only Malawi, Lesotho, and Swaziland maintained full diplomatic relations with Israel, while a few other countries sustained contact through interest offices in foreign embassies.  Cooperation did, however, continue to some extent; African students participated in training courses in Israel; and Israeli experts were active throughout the continent.

Since the 1980s, diplomatic relations with sub-Saharan countries have been gradually renewed, gaining momentum as peace negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbors progressed. By the late 1990s, official ties had been reestablished with 39 countries south of the Sahara.

Today, Israel and the sub-Saharan countries are engaged in an ongoing political dialogue, expressed in reciprocal visits by heads of state and government ministers. Furthermore, dynamic activities exist, including economic and commercial ties, cultural and academic contacts, a variety of joint agricultural projects, medical assistance, professional training programs, and humanitarian aid in times of need.

In September 2009, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman visited Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda, where he met with the leaders of these countries and signed a series of political, economic and development cooperation agreements. He also inaugurated joint projects between Israel and the African host countries.

Foreign Minister Liberman takes part in distribution of Israeli-made agricultural equipment to women in Kenya, Sept 2009 (Photo: MFA)

Israel has followed with interest the process of political and economic integration in Africa and the creation of the African Union. As an expression of friendship and solidarity, Israel has reiterated its commitment to work together with the emerging institutions and organizations in Africa, adding another chapter to its unique relations with this continent.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni with African ambassadors to Israel
(Photo: Flash 90)

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